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Violent crime in Baltimore is no laughing matter, Gov. Hogan | COMMENTARY

Gov. Larry Hogan takes questions from the media outside of the Berry plastic plant in Baltimore about early voting, COVID-19 and his recent joke about running for Baltimore mayor.
Gov. Larry Hogan takes questions from the media outside of the Berry plastic plant in Baltimore about early voting, COVID-19 and his recent joke about running for Baltimore mayor. (Christine Condon)

Gov. Larry Hogan’s joke Tuesday, during an interview on WBAL Radio, that he might just “run for mayor of Baltimore” to “fix” its violent crime issues fell flat for more than the obvious reasons. Those, of course, being the fact that the 1,933 lives taken in Baltimore City since Mr. Hogan assumed office in 2015 are no laughing matter, and the governor’s long-standing pattern of showing disdain for the city, which was just a few years ago regarded as the state’s economic engine and cultural hub.

You might remember he erased Baltimore from a Maryland map six months after he was sworn in for his first term, while announcing $2 billion in transportation projects for, as he tweeted, “every single county in Maryland!” Every jurisdiction, that is, but Baltimore City. The space where Baltimore should have been on the map was a vast void, presumably consumed by the Patapsco River. Then there were the times he: canceled the city’s long-anticipated east-west public transit route, known as the Red Line (also June 2015); balanced his state budget proposal on Baltimore’s back, proposing to cut millions in aid programs meant to help the city recover from the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody (2017); and blocked millions in funding that had been set aside for, among other things, the world-class Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore YouthWorks program, which provides summer jobs for city teens (2019).

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But the biggest problem with Mr. Hogan’s insensitive remark is that it reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of crime and the reasons for it in the city. The statement perpetuates a false perception that a new mayor is going to somehow, in a single term, magically and individually address Baltimore’s decades-old underlying issues that lead to gang and drug-related violence in low-income communities, weak relationships and trust among residents and law enforcement, and a cowboy culture within the Baltimore Police Department. It also minimizes the hard work that so many people and organizations are already engaged in here, including nonprofits like Roca, which seeks to intervene in the lives of at-risk young people before they turn to violence; the thousands of residents who rally for 72-hour Ceasefire weekends; Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, whose crime plan calls for a proactive approach to law enforcement, with an emphasis on community connection and department accountability; and the U.S. Department of Justice, which entered into a consent decree with the city in 2017 to reform the police department.

We’ve already seen how Mr. Hogan would address crime from his legislative proposals throughout the years: by increasing mandatory minimum sentences, limiting access to parole, trying more juveniles as adults and encouraging more prosecutions overall in this majority Black city. Such policies are reminiscent of the tough-on-crime and light-on-civil-rights approaches of the 1990s, and various studies have shown they would do little to deter crime, but a lot to continue the disproportionate targeting of Black residents for prosecution and punishment. A Justice Policy Institute report released in November showed Maryland already incarcerates Black residents at double the rate of the rest of the country: 71% of the state’s prison population is Black — with a third of prisoners coming from Baltimore — compared with just 31% of the overall Maryland population.

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Not to mention the governor already has technical control of the Baltimore Police Department, which has been a state agency since 1860.

If Mr. Hogan really wants to reduce crime in the city, there are far more meaningful actions he could take — and not take — than making flip remarks. He could start by not repeating in the coming legislative session the vetoing of crime bills he undertook during the last session; those bills passed by the legislature would have allowed for the hiring of crime-prevention coordinators in 10 targeted city micro zones; brought in state police to help patrol certain city highways; created a new warrant task force; and properly staffed Baltimore’s pretrial complex.

He could reestablish the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which he defunded in 2017, with a mandate that the brain trust of state and city leaders, judges, prosecutors and police focus their efforts on how to best reduce violent crime in Baltimore.

And he could overhaul the state’s Division of Parole and Probation, which was actually supervising 45% of the people killed in Baltimore in January and February of this year and 34% of those who were victims of nonfatal shootings, according to a report released this month by the Department of Legislative Services. Half of those suspected of committing murder during that period were under DPP supervision, as were 60% of those suspected in the shooting injuries.

We know that such moves undertaken by one individual alone won’t solve all of Baltimore’s crime problems any more than a change of mayor would, but it would be a good start at making a coordinated — and serious — effort at tackling the issue.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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